Looking at Cicadas

Looking at Cicadas

It’s the background noise of late summer, the continuous sound of  dog-day cicadas.

These are the annual  cicadas that come out this time of year,  not the 17-year variety that emerged in the Northeast US this summer (the last time here was 2007), but  there are alot of them, and they seem to be everywhere!

Maybe you think they are just big, clumsy bugs, kind of creepy with their red eyes and all.  Children seem to love them, anyway.

Why should we care about cicadas?

Just think how their lives lead up to this awkward flight and noise.  They live for a few afternoons, evenings in the humid air. Maybe 5-6 weeks, that’s it. Then, all crying done, only the shells remain. And their bodies, flightless now, those wings like fragile lace.

You can find out more about cicadas online, if you are curious about their entomology. Did you know they can be found all over the world?

Cicadas have also inspired art and poetry. This excellent article explores the cicada in Asian art and folklore.

In ancient China the cicada was seen as a symbol of rebirth, much like the Egyptian scarabs. Many jade carvings of cicadas have been found among funereal offerings. Here are  some  examples in the Art Institute’s collection.

In addition to rebirth, other meanings have been suggested—-transformation, abundance,  harvest—seasonal associations of late summer, early fall.

In Japan, the sound of the cicadas is called semi shigure –“cicada rain” — a shower of sound, like  heavy rain falling.  There is even a taiko drum group by that name. 

In the Buddhist sense, cicadas are seen as an example of the impermanence of this world.  There is sadness,  humor and beauty, too.

Issa wrote many haiku about them. Here is one example–

first cicada–

“Look at the floating world!

Look, loo-ook!”



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Filed under: seasons, weather

Tags: cicadas


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  • I didn't know that there were both 17 year and annual cicadas.All I knew what that there was a lot of noise back in 2007 and still now around nightfall. This explains all the big bugs I have seen recently.

    And your next task: what's behind the second year of a proliferation of skunks? They aren't roaming as obviously as last year, but the road kill and smell are about as prevalent.

  • In reply to jack:

    Dear Jack--Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Yes, I was surprised to learn there are different kinds of cicadas around here. There are two types found in northern Illinois, also a 13-year variety found in southern Illinois.

    The 2007 emergence was really impressive, wasn't it? The forest preserves in the West suburbs were just deafening. Some areas had been built up,though, parking lots where trees had been, and not so many cicadas. How things change in 17 years!

    I don't know what's up with the skunks. I'll have to look into that...

    Thanks again.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, for a second I thought you were referring to the Tea Party Republican 'skunks' in Congress.

    Sorry, I couldn't resist.

  • I watched an episode of Fringe last night (hi, it's 2010 in my brain) about some gross bugs that feasted on human flesh. So . . . not really feeling the cicadas right now. Maybe some Japanese art will change my mind?

    PS, nah.

  • Dear Jenna, thanks for reading and commenting! I'm sorry if the cicadas are creeping you out. These guys don't bite, though, they're just weird looking.

    Maybe it's the red eyes...There was a Night Gallery episode on not too long ago (a rerun from 1972) with a bug with red eyes, too.

    Your post on the zombie babies was brilliant, by the way. Now, THAT is really creepy!

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Ha, thanks. We both like to write about the creepy stuff I see :)

  • WG, you've done it again. Piqued my interest. BTW, I found a cicada carcass (perfectly preserved) in my garden and intend to do a thorough autopsy. Just kidding.

  • Thanks, AW! I have also found some cicada carcasses, but I don't know what to do with them. Apparently, some animals do like to eat cicadas. They are much enjoyed by raccoons and skunks! Could there be a connection?

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